A few days ago, my 7th grade French class became the scene of an “investigation” after a miniature statue of Rodin’s Le Penseur was stolen from an art museum. Each student in the class played a role. There was a detective, a cafe waitress (who is the actual thief), and a few museum visitors. The only thing I told the students in advance was which role they would play so that they could dress up accordingly, but the thief would not find out who she was until the actual day of the activity. The “investigation” was entirely conducted in French and in the past tense. Before it started, I gave each student a card which told them in French all the information they needed to know, such as the times they arrived at the museum and when they left it, the things they noticed, the people they observed, and if they were the thief, etc. The detective was the one of course with the most critical role of all. She not only needed to write down everyone’s answers to all her questions, but she also needed to process a lot of information, and make sense of it so that she could discover who committed the robbery.
A lot of critical thinking was required, first on a linguistic level. Everyone had to be able to understand what the detective was asking them in order to answer her questions, all of the above in complete sentences. The role cards I had given them said “YOU did this, YOU did that…” When answering a question, they had to transpose their answers in the “I” form. Secondly, they had to really think about what each one was saying, process the information, and try to remember all of the important elements. At the end, everybody had a theory about who the thief might be. They also had to explain why. It was truly wonderful to see how engaged the whole class became and how seriously each student took her role. They would actually get a little offended when someone accused them wrongly of the robbery. Finally, the infamous thief was revealed by the detective!